Woman and her grandson prepare to fish
Woman and her grandson prepare to fish at Wainadawa creek near Nadakuni Village in the Sovi Basin, Fiji. (© Conservation International/photo by Peg Arrington)

Editor’s note: To achieve an effective conservation outcome, you need a crucial piece of information: how women and men in the community use nature differently. In the waters off many Pacific Islands, for example, you’ll often find women gleaning in the shallows while men fish in deep waterstwo fundamentally different uses of marine resources. Understanding the distinct roles and responsibilities of women and men and how conservation work impacts them is critical to supporting communities and making conservation efforts successful.

To help further this understanding and to strengthen the skills of CI staff and partners, Conservation International (CI) recently piloted field-based gender workshops in Fiji, Samoa and Ecuador. Human Nature sat down with Kame Westerman, CI’s adviser for gender and conservation, and Whitney Anderson, gender focal point for Asia-Pacific, to discuss what we all need to learn about gender and conservation.

Question: What does gender have to do with conservation?

Kame Westerman (KW): First, it’s important to understand what we mean by gender. We’re referring to gender as the characteristics of women and men (such as norms and roles) that society has constructed — characteristics that vary considerably between cultures and over time. Recognizing and responding to these differences is critical to respecting human rights and promoting successful conservation outcomes.

As conservationists, we work with communities to protect forests, to manage coral reefs, to save critical species. To successfully achieve CI’s conservation goals and to collaborate with communities to make lasting changes for future generations, we must be able to communicate with, educate and motivate entire communities made up of men, women, boys and girls to act. Understanding the different needs and perspectives of everyone — how they communicate, how they learn, what motivates them, what unique ecological knowledge they have and how conservation initiatives may impact them — is therefore vital to our work.

Women fishing
Women fishing at Wainadawa creek near Nadakuni Village in the Sovi Basin, Fiji….